Orange County is a diverse, multicultural, multiethnic, multi-religious community encompassing all walks of life. In honor of this month’s issue discussing interfaith marriage, J Doc sought the input from across the spectrum and received thoughtful, but honest answers.
Deborah, a community member who grew up in a traditional Orthodox home, says: “It is hard for me to answer this question… — I believe it makes a relationship more compatible when both individuals in the couple are the same faith. That is also how we were raised, learning that as a Jew, we would marry another Jew. I would not ever put anyone down for marrying ‘out of the faith,’ but it is not something I would do…”
Sari, community member and University Synagogue President, says: “If Jewish interfaith families are engaging in Jewish life and teaching their children about Jewish history and values, then they are likely creating homes that honor their religious heritage. Non-Jewish partners can find spiritual fulfillment within Jewish culture. Children who are raised to be Jews can still learn about and respect the traditions and backgrounds of their non-Jewish parent and relatives and share in their experiences. Honoring and respecting both partners’ traditions and integrating them into a family’s life while still choosing one religion for a child’s identity is very important to most Jews. Interfaith marriage is a contribution to a multicultural society that can enrich lives.”
Rabbi Dov Fischer, Young Israel of Orange County, says: In our Orthodox Jewish community, the purposeful life is driven by our commitment to the values we are taught in the Torah. Jewish religious endogamy is very central to our values. Yet, as I learned when I came to Orange County nearly a decade ago, a profoundly sizeable percentage of the Orthodox-observant community here is rooted in once-intermarried households where a non-Jewish spouse sought Orthodox conversion, and her husband proceeded to embrace the Orthodox life alongside her. I had seen and celebrated that social and theological phenomenon before, but I never before had seen the phenomenon in such numbers that, literally, there would not be a meaningful institutional Orthodox-observant presence in Orange County (in general) and in Irvine (in specific) if it were not for “once-intermarrieds” who now both observe Shabbat with devotion and sincerity, and now are rearing children to live a life of Torah. At the same time, I also gained a broadened awareness of and appreciation for embracing Jewish people who really, really want to cleave to G-d and to practice meaningful religious Judaism, notwithstanding other choices they made earlier in their lives. And once you embrace the Jewish partner in a household who has embarked on a life’s journey with his G-d, you come to embrace the non-Jewish partner, too. You just do. You see the sacrifices that the non-Jewish partner makes for the Jewish partner to engage his faith and to attend our shul, to daven regularly in a Sunday morning minyan or at a Shabbat morning service every week, to attend an Orthodox Seder or Orthodox High Holiday services, to come each and every Tuesday night to Chumash-Bible Study or every Thursday night all year to Talmud Class, and you come to see why the Biblical Naomi did not banish Orpah and Ruth from her life during the approximately ten years that those Moabitess daughters-in-law were married to her still-living Jewish sons. You learn as a Modern Orthodox rabbi in Orange County that life is very complex and that people are deeply complex. You learn, from first-hand encounters at one synagogue, that there are many people who ostensibly are “observant” and “religious pillars” but who actually are Tartuffe-like hypocrites and phonies who would defame and destroy good people and sabotage their lives. And then you learn, at another shul — like ours at Young Israel of Orange County — that there are other people whose life choices place them in complex positions where they nevertheless search honestly and sincerely for G-d, yearn deeply for G-d, serve Him lovingly, and they can be amazingly wonderful and kind people, who really want to connect not only with Jewish faith and belief but, as much as practicable, with Jewish observance and practice. That is why we embrace conversion candidates who seek to become Jews By Choice and, for that matter, why we warmly welcome Jews of all backgrounds within the ambit of our Modern Orthodox congregational community.”
Rachel, a member of the community, says:
“As a product of interfaith marriage, I see the issue from two sides. On the one hand, if two people love and respect each other, I believe they can make a marriage work and thrive regardless of different religious backgrounds. At the core, religions encourage similar values and an opportunity to learn about others and increase overall tolerance. On the other hand, if the marriage produces children, it is important to educate them about the two backgrounds they come from. I was not exposed much to either religion, and it left me feeling a bit lost to have two religions, but not know much or practice. Interfaith marriage, similar to interracial and same-sex marriage, is unfortunately still challenging the “traditional” view of what marriage is and puts the added responsibility of explaining one’s choice, and helping children and families to understand and accept that choice. “
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue says: “Intermarriage is a fact of life these days. People from different religious backgrounds fall in love and marry. Our synagogue is dedicated to supporting and fully integrating intermarried couples into Jewish life. We believe that the proper attitude of the Jewish community towards intermarried couples should be one of warmth, caring and love, representing the highest universal values of Judaism, while stressing our hope for these couples’ commitment in return.”
For July: To Clone or Not to Clone…What Is the
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